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Redress of Windrush suffering must not be isolated

Bert Samuels

Monday, July 09, 2018

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The Windrush victims may be separated from their enslaved ancestors by multiple generations, but their treatment and need for redress is not dissimilar. Jamaican poet Claude McKay made the point in 1922 regarding the legacy of intergenerational suffering from slavery to the colonial period when he wrote his poem Enslaved:

“Oh when I think of my long-suffering race,

For weary centuries despised, oppressed,

Enslaved and lynched, denied a human place

In the great life line of the Christian West;

And in the black land disinherited,

Robbed in the ancient country of its birth.”

Martin Forde, a lawyer of African descent, was appointed by the home secretary in Britain, in May of this year, to advise on how to compensate West Indian men and women who have spent their entire adult life as part of the British working class.

The rationale for a class action in law is that a tribunal is prepared to entertain a class of claims once they arise from similar and related circumstances. The Windrush victims are also victims of inherited poverty, which they suffered with or without their British experience. In other words, it's the desolate state of affairs in the Caribbean, in the wake of colonial exploitation and neglect in the 1950s and 60s, which caused them to make the huge sacrifice of leaving family and friends behind to go aboard the Empire Windrush in the first place.

This issue ought to be a door-opener for other victims to speak up and for the British to make amends. The publicity that transferred the Windrush issue from the back to the front burner is momentum for educating our people to rally around the bigger cause of compensation for the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. The piecemeal approach of correcting the wrongs of the past must be discouraged. The British paid over 20 million pounds to the Mau Mau freedom fighters of Kenya in 2013. This was for the torture of Africans who dared to resist British strangers who, after invading Kenya, took over the wealth of their homeland.

As Britain seeks to enter the fold of civilised nations, the need to continue to assume responsibility for its global atrocities during its occupation of over 37 countries over the past three centuries is now ripening.

The claim is not restricted to restoring economies from past centuries of polices aimed at building the empire at the expense of the blood, sweat, and tears of forced labour. Britain, where are the artefacts stolen from Africa and the Caribbean, which you have placed in your museums as major tourist attractions? We call upon you to repatriate carvings of Taino deities you stole from Jamaica, which are now housed in the British Museum.

Britain has finally responded to the scandal of humans placed on the scrap heap of unemployment, who were denied citizenship, leading to devastating psychological trauma. They had to give up jobs when new legislation came into being, punishing those who dared to employ them. Jobless, many could not pay their rent, eventually becoming homeless and virtually stateless. They missed funerals, relationships collapsed, and have had to endure being wrongfully deported. Those thrown out were denied re-entry and forced to remain here with no family ties following the lapse of decades since they left for greener pastures.

Being an aging generation, as their health care needs increased, hostile immigration policies denied them access to Britain's comprehensive health care. They had suddenly become illegal immigrants, whose past contribution to the national budget as taxpayers was by no means insignificant. With nowhere to go, they experienced desperation and helplessness as not only was their immigration status called into question by the new 2013 rules, but also that of their children.

The plight of the Windrush generation, in so many ways, mirrors the plight of the newly freed enslaved; themselves unemployed, unemployable, destitute, landless, and unrewarded. They had to walk away from plantations that were being compensated, but not themselves compensated for their free forced labour. At the same time, Britain was experiencing the boom of the Industrial Revolution at their expense. They, like mistreated Windrush migrants, were victims of the same inhumane policies, by the same State, which must be made to redress those wrongs, past and present.

We call on Britain to come clean, move beyond the Windrush issue, and address the wrongs of the past which have left a legacy of persistent poverty in our country. We received a sham political independence in 1962. We now want genuine economic independence, which is impossible without massive compensation to those who built the British Empire unrewarded.

Bert S Samuels is an attorney-at-law and member of National Council on Reparation. Send comments to the Observer or bert.samuels@gmail.com.

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